Essex lorry deaths: First 16 bodies returned to families in Vietnam

27 November 2019, 16:26

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The bodies of 16 of the 39 Vietnamese nationals who were found dead in the container of a lorry in Essex were flown back to their homeland on Wednesday.

Almost half of the bodies arrived in Vietnam's capital Hanoi and were transported to their families south of the city, a local online newspaper confirmed.

VNExpress published photos of the ambulances used to carry them to their home provinces, more than a month after the tragedy.

The bodies of 39 Vietnamese people were found in Grays, Essex, on 23 October after being brought to the UK in the back of a lorry by human traffickers.

Police believe the victims were aged between 15 and 44 years old, with 31 being males and 8 being females.

A number of suspects have been arrested in both the UK and in Vietnam following reports that the victims paid people to transport them to the UK.

Almost half the victims from the Essex lorry tragedy were returned to Vietnam
Almost half the victims from the Essex lorry tragedy were returned to Vietnam. Picture: PA
One of the families said the return of the bodies was "bittersweet"
One of the families said the return of the bodies was "bittersweet". Picture: PA

Hoang Lanh, father of 18-year-old victim Hoang Van Tiep, said a local government official explained that his son's remains would be returned on Wednesday, as well as six other victims from Dien Chau district in Nghe An province, including Mr Tiep's cousin Nguyen Van Hung.

Mr Lanh said: "It's bittersweet, I can't believe I would have to welcome my son back like this.

"I'm devastated but I am happy to have him back with us soon."

Mr Tiep's body was handed over to the family shortly before midday local time, Mr Tiep's sister Hoang Thi Nhiem confirmed.

"We are very sad, but we are happy now that he has been brought back to the place where he was born to be with his family and surrounded with love from the family," she said.

"He wouldn't be able to rest in peace if he had still been in England."

The victims's bodies arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday
The victims's bodies arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday. Picture: PA

Nguyen Thanh Le, father of 33-year-old Nguyen Van Hung, also expressed his upset before receiving his loved one's remains.

"I have been sad for a month and I can't eat anything. My son died far away from his home and I had to wait for a long time, but today his body is coming back and tomorrow is the funeral."

Gareth Ward, the British ambassador to Vietnam, promised that the two countries would continue to work in unison "to prevent human trafficking and protect vulnerable people here."

"We will continue working with Vietnamese authorities to investigate the criminal acts that led to this tragedy," he said in a video statement.

"In the coming time, I plan to visit the affected communities to express my condolences and reinforce the British government's commitment to preventing anything like this from happening again."

Families expressed their sadness at the return of their loved ones
Families expressed their sadness at the return of their loved ones. Picture: PA

On Monday, a lorry driver who was allegedly the driver of the vehicle in which the 39 bodies were found pleaded guilty to plotting with others to assist illegal immigration and acquiring criminal property.

Northern Irish truck driver Maurice Robinson, 25, is charged with the manslaughter of a group of men, women and children found dead in a refrigerated trailer.

Appearing via video link at the Old Bailey, he was not asked to enter pleas to 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people.

Police say he drove the vehicle's cab to the port of Purfleet where it picked up the container that had arrived by ferry from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.

British police arrested another man, 36, on Monday on suspicion of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Two other men have been arrested in Britain and Ireland in connection with the case.